Jolene talked too much and too fast for two reasons—either she was in trouble or she was running from her emotions. Right then, it was definitely the latter.

In mandatory therapy, Tucker would sit on the comfortable sofa and tell the guy what he needed to hear. He’d had to see him several times after Melanie’s death. He’d been so full of rage and so self-destructive that he was put on desk duty. That’s when he started drinking, and the last straw was when he had that little fender bender in his work car. He didn’t pass the Breathalyzer test, and the doc said he wouldn’t sign papers even for desk duty unless Tucker went to rehab.

But that morning, he felt better than he’d ever felt when he went to a therapist. Usually even the mention of Melanie’s name made him want to drink. They walked back to the house together, past the trailer where he always had a bottle of whiskey, but the longing for a shot was gone.

They were close enough that their hands brushed several times. He couldn’t deny that there were vibes, but until he was ready to close the door to the past, he couldn’t do anything about the attraction. He’d wanted to kiss Jolene so badly back there under that tree, and even now, when he glanced over at her lips, he wanted to take her in his arms. But again, he had issues to take care of before that could happen.

When they reached the house, he held the door for her to enter before him. She removed her coat and headed straight for the kitchen. He did the same and got out the ice cream while she warmed the cobbler.

Food and work provided an escape after an emotional talk like they’d just had. Would it always be that way? Would they, someday in the future, really start a relationship? He was still wondering what that would be like with Jolene when she poked him on the arm.

“So?” she asked.

“So what?” He frowned.

“What were you thinkin’ about? You didn’t even hear me talkin’, did you?”

“Nope. I was woolgathering. Tell me again,” he said.

“I was asking you if you’ll talk to Aunt Sugar with me. You can explain all the carpentry stuff a lot better than I can, and besides, it might do both of you good to get to know each other. This wasn’t just her business. It was her lifetime home.” She took two bowls from the cabinet and set them on the table.

He got out two spoons and the ice cream scoop. “Sure. Be glad to do that.”

“Both Uncle Jasper and Aunt Sugar were so disappointed in Reuben that it’ll be positive for them to see that the inn is in good hands,” she said.

“You think they’re kind of mad at me for buying him out? If I hadn’t stepped up and got it the day after he put it on the market, he might have changed his mind,” Tucker said.

She pulled the cobbler from the microwave. “I doubt that, but it is what it is.”

He divided the cobbler into two portions and put them into bowls. She added the ice cream and carried hers to the table. He joined her and put the first bite of cobbler into his mouth. “This is better than it was yesterday.”

Before she could argue with him, there was a rap on the door and Dotty yelled, “Yoo-hoo, I’m comin’ in. If you ain’t decent, you better hide behind a chair.”

“I’m just glad I’m decent. I don’t think there’s a chair big enough to hide me,” Tucker said.

“Little egotistical there?” Jolene raised an eyebrow.

“I wasn’t talking about . . .” She hadn’t seen a man blush in years.

“Talkin’ about what?” Dotty draped her coat over a chair and sat down. “Got coffee made? If not, I’ll have tea. I’m going to an estate sale that starts at eleven. They’ve got an old jukebox I want for the bar. It actually plays real records and might defend us from that damn karaoke.”

Jolene cocked her head to one side. “Karaoke?”

“Thursday nights when you’re not there. Bruce started it against my wishes, and I didn’t know how to stop it once he was gone,” Dotty said. “Listenin’ to drunk people sing drives me crazy.”

Jolene remembered her mother staggering through the door singing some song that she’d performed on karaoke night at a bar. Elaine had a voice like a screech owl when she tried to sing. Jolene had thought at the time that she was so glad she hadn’t been there to see her mama make a fool out of herself on a stage.

“Y’all want to go with me?” Dotty asked.

“You go, Jolene. I should stay here and get some bedding and taping—” Tucker started.

Dotty reached across the table and patted him on the cheek. “You are your own boss now.”

Tucker smiled. “You’ve got my attention. Tell me more about how an auction works.”

Jolene poured a glass of tea and set it in front of Dotty.

“The first hour they’ll sell off the junk while everyone looks round at the good stuff. Then from twelve to one, the crowd will all go to the food wagon to get a barbecue sandwich.” Dotty took several long gulps of the tea. “It’ll be a profitable couple of hours whether we buy or not, because old Buster runs that food wagon and he makes the best barbecue in the county. Y’all can follow me. I’ve got the company truck, and it only seats two people.”

The auction was ten miles away, not far from Smithland, at a two-story house set back off the road in a copse of pine trees, not totally unlike the setting for the Magnolia Inn. A young guy directed the traffic to a pasture that was being used for parking, and Tucker pulled his truck in right beside Dotty’s.

“First thing we do is go get us a biddin’ number.” Dotty started talking as soon as she got out of her vehicle. “Then we’ll do a walk-through and see what they’ve got. Lucy said if I see something really nice to send her a picture and she’ll tell me whether to bid on it for her.”

They signed their names to the roster, and the lady sitting behind the table handed each of them a small booklet along with a piece of cardboard with a number written on it. “Everything is labeled in order that it will be sold, and the auctioneer will do the selling from the garage. So write down what you’re interested in. Once you buy, you come back to me to pay and claim your purchase.”

Dotty stuck her book and number in the hip pocket of her jeans and motioned for Tucker and Jolene to follow her. “I like this kind of sale. It’s well organized. And if I see something I want to bid on, I’ll write the item number down in my book.”

“Oh, oh!” Jolene clamped a hand over her mouth. “I want this box of doilies and scarves.” She whipped the book up out of her purse, located a pen, and made her first note. She could visualize them scattered on the dressers in each bedroom, and even matted and framed to hang on the walls. Crocheting was fast becoming a lost art, especially the kind with fine thread instead of yarn.

“You do realize that you’ll have to wash them every single time a guest leaves, right?” Dotty frowned.

The box held dozens of doilies and at least ten embroidered scarves—one even had magnolia blossoms on each end with fancy work in between depictions of hummingbirds.

“I’m going to frame this one to go above a bed.” Jolene held it close to her chest. She was determined to buy the box if it took all of her tips for the past two weeks.

“That’s a lie.” Dotty pointed at the scarf.

“No, I mean it. It will be lovely,” Jolene argued.

“Not what you said, but the birds. Those little guys like red blossoms, not white ones.”

Tucker chuckled. “I can just see our first guest tellin’ us that they have to change their room because hummingbirds don’t go around magnolia trees. How much would you give for that box, Dotty?”

“No more than five dollars, because I can’t sell those things. People, even antiquers, don’t like the effort it takes to keep them done up,” she said.

Dotty found a secretary with a rounded glass door that she thought she might be interested in buying. Tucker’s eyes went all dreamy over a gadget that Jolene thought was a piece of junk or maybe something like modern art.

He held it in his hands and looked at it from every angle. “This is a genuine hand planer. I’m hoping that there aren’t any woodworkers here today so I can get it for a decent price. I could take a tiny bit of wood off the top or bottom at a time. I’m going to keep my eye on that for sure.” He wrote the number in his book.

The box of doilies started at two dollars. Jolene didn’t make a move until Dotty nudged her. “You got to raise your number, chère, or he’ll put them with something else later, like a dresser.”

Jolene’s hand shot up, but she was holding her book instead of her number card.

“Wrong thing,” Tucker said.

She raised her card with her other hand. “Sorry.”

“I’ve got two bucks. Can I get three?” the auctioneer rattled off.

“Five,” Jolene yelled out. The scarf with the magnolias was going to be hers.

The auctioneer grinned and went on. “Young lady in the back must like this kind of thing. Can I get six? Six? Anybody want them worse than she does? One more time. Six? Anyone? Okay, then, sold to the pretty blonde in the back for five dollars.”

They broke for lunch before the box with the tools was up for grabs. They only had to stand in line at the barbecue wagon a few minutes.

“Man, you’re so right,” Jolene said after the first bite. “These are amazing sandwiches.” She chattered on as she ate. “I can’t believe I got that whole box of stuff for only five bucks. When you see what I’ve got in mind for that magnolia embroidery, it’s going to blow your mind. I’ve seen plain doilies that’ve been matted and framed go for a hundred bucks. I wonder who did that work on the magnolias.”

“Slow down.” Dotty laughed. “You’d think this was your first auction.”

“It is my first one.” Suddenly she got serious. “I didn’t see that jukebox that you wanted. Are they hiding it?”